In an age when action stars have contract riders that legally protect them from ever losing an onscreen fight, it’s refreshing to stroll down memory lane and revisit the time when tough guys could take a punch as well as they could take a joke. When Sylvester Stallone hosted Saturday Night Live in 1997, Rocky Balboa fully committed to the bit as he took Norm Macdonald’s gleeful, repeated and borderline disrespectful digs in one of the most underappreciated SNL sketches of the 1990s.

After Macdonald had made Stallone’s brother Frank the butt of half of his jokes on “Weekend Update,” Macdonald used Stallone’s appearance on the show as an excuse to run through every single flop of Sly’s vast filmography in a sketch that stretched the limits of John Rambo’s graciousness. No one knew how to dip their toe a single inch over the line quite like Macdonald.

At the time, Stallone had about as many hits under his belt as he had flops, and with the Rocky and Rambo franchises firmly in his rearview mirror (until, of course, the revival of both properties a decade later), his career was floating into uncertain waters as he started to take parts that played against his type as an uber-macho ass-kicker. He even took up voice acting in the bizarre DreamWorks movie Antz in 1998, which has to be a half-step above rapping in a fake Dunkin’ Donuts ad like Al Pacino did in Jack and Jill.

Smack dab in the middle of a career impasse, Rambo stepped into Macdonald’s firing line and took shot after shot from a bloodied Macdonald in the quintessential Norm Macdonald style that is so casually brutal to the targets of his jokes. But Rocky took it like a champ and played the perfect straight man as his life’s work was lampooned in front of a howling audience.

In all of Stallone’s comedy appearances, no one ever roasted him as viciously and as personally as Macdonald did that fateful Saturday night. The only other time Stallone was on the receiving end of a joke this harsh was when Arnold Schwarzenegger baited him into taking the leading role in Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot.

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